Jun. 28, 2006

On a Fly Drinking Out of His Cup

by William Oldys

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Poem: "On a Fly Drinking Out of His Cup" by William Oldys. Public domain. (buy now)

On a Fly Drinking Out of His Cup

Busy, curious, thirsty fly!
Drink with me and drink as I:
Freely welcome to my cup,
Couldst thou sip and sip it up:
Make the most of life you may,
Life is short and wears away.

Both alike are mine and thine
Hastening quick to their decline:
Thine's a summer, mine's no more,
Though repeated to threescore.
Threescore summers, when they're gone,
Will appear as short as one!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1914 that the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot and killed by a Bosnian revolutionary, an event that led to the start of World War I.

Ferdinand was the heir to the throne of the Hapsburg Empire, and Bosnia was one of the empire's most rebellious provinces. Many ethnic Serbians wanted to free Bosnia from Hapsburg rule and unite their country with neighboring Serbia.

Early in the morning, on this day in 1914, Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, boarded a touring car that would carry them to Sarajevo's city hall. What they didn't know was that six Bosnian Serbs, members of an organization called the Black Hand, were planning an assassination attempt.

Ferdinand's car wasn't even half way to city hall when one of the assassins threw a grenade. The chauffeur sped up, and the bomb bounced off the side of the car, wounding twenty people in the cars behind. Ferdinand made it to City Hall unscathed, and he was greeted there as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The mayor began making a welcome speech, and Ferdinand interrupted him, pointing out that he'd just nearly been killed.

Instead of offering to protect the archduke with an army escort, the general in charge of security suggested they return to the train station along the straightest, widest road in the city, so that they could travel rapidly. Unfortunately, no one told the chauffeur about the change in plans. So Ferdinand and his wife got back into the car, and the chauffeur proceeded down the route that had been published in the paper that morning. Once he realized his mistake, the chauffer stopped and tried to back out of a narrow street.

The chauffeur just happened to have stopped the car a few feet away from one of the assassins, a nineteen-year-old named Gavrilo Princip, with a .38 Browning pistol in his pocket. Standing just a few feet away from the royal car, he fired only two shots, but that was enough to kill both the Austrian archduke and his wife.

One month after the assassination, Austria used the event as an excuse to declare war on Serbia, even though the nation of Serbia had nothing to do with the Bosnian Serbs who had carried out the assassination. Germany chose to back Austria in its attack. Russia declared that it would defend Serbia from the assault. By August, France had entered the war against Germany. And when Germany invaded Belgium, Great Britain got involved as well, having pledged to defend Belgium from any invaders.

That series of alliances led to the largest war ever conducted in history at that point—all set in motion by a single assassin.

Coincidentally, it was also on this day in 1919 that the Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending World War I.

It's the birthday of author and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (books by this author) born in Geneva, Switzerland (1712), whose work marked the end of the Age of Reason and the beginning of the Age of Romanticism.

He wrote his first important work, Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750), in Paris. It's theme—and, indeed, the theme of all his writing—is that man is good by nature but has been corrupted by society and civilization. He later introduced the central idea of romanticism, that in art the free expression of the creative spirit is more important than adherence to strict rules and formal traditions. In 1762, he published his most famous work, The Social Contract, which opened with the line, "Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains." He also coined the phrase, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," which became the battle cry of the French Revolution.

His book Emile (1762), which advocates education for everyone, was banned in Paris and the authorities ordered Rousseau arrested. He spent the rest of his life as a fugitive, and died, friendless and ill, in 1778.

Rousseau said, "The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said, 'This is mine,' and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society."

And he said, "People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little."

It's the birthday of painter Peter Paul Rubens, born in Siegen, Germany (1577). He is probably best known for his paintings of voluptuous women, from which we get the word "Rubenesque."

It's the birthday of the "father of the modern spy novel," Eric Ambler, (books by this author) born in London (1909), author of thrillers including Background to Danger (1937), Cause for Alarm (1938), and Journey into Fear (1940).

He was the first author to write stories about international espionage that were based on real life. He started writing thrillers because all of the ones he read were full of ridiculous superheroes and villains. He wanted to write about exciting events that could actually happen. He said, "Thrillers are acceptable now. ... A hundred years from now, if they last, these books may offer some clues to what was going on in our world."

He was a British solder during World War II. He was assigned to write documentaries to boost the morale of troops, and he wrote the highly regarded full-length film The Way Ahead (1944). When he was discharged he continued to write movie scripts, including The Cruel Sea (1953), which was nominated for an Academy Award. Topkapi (1964) was a movie based on his novel The Light of Day (1962).

It's the birthday of fiction writer Mark Helprin, (books by this author) born in New York City (1947). His novels include Winter's Tale (1983), Memoir from Antproof Case (1995), and A Soldier of the Great War (1991). He writes about characters who go on adventures, have crises, and come to appreciate the beauty of life. He said, "I have no agony or resentments. Boredom and alienation don't mean a thing to me."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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